Nov. 22 is Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday.
The Reign of Christ Sunday is like New Years Eve. We reminisce about the past year and look forward to the New Year; beginning with the First Sunday of Advent. Advent is a season filled with expectation and preparation and the year ends with the celebration of the Reign of Christ.
However, this year as we reminisce on the past year, we missed most of the liturgical celebrations with the closing of St Andrews. Instead of looking back at a year with fondness, we instead see the doors of St. Andrews padlocked for far too many Sunday’s.
Who knew our vocabulary and everyday life would include words like Code Red, masks, social distancing and repeated calls to stay home? Yet through all this we begin to see flickers of hope. The Winnipeg Free Press had a picture illustration Friday:
What is a 7 letter word for “hope”?
We do rely on science and the ability to help us in our present day crisis. However, this week we are reminded that there is something, or should I say someone, greater than ourselves. His name is Jesus and we celebrate the Reign of Christ or Christ the King on this last Sunday before Advent.
Today I am reminded of the wonderful chorus Our God Reigns.
Out from the tomb He came with grace and majesty; He is alive, He is alive. God loves us so, see here His hands, His feet, His side Yes we know, He is alive.
Refrain: Our God reigns Our God reigns
And so this coming Advent we begin a new. We prepare and we look with expectancy for the coming of our Lord Jesus. Even though this has been a year of crisis fighting a pandemic, we have a new year coming. We begin as we always do with the Advent Season. One filled with love, joy, peace, and yes, hope. For our God reigns!
We have missed so may High Feast days this year and again I feel short changed not to be able to celebrate Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday should have an air that resembles Palm Sunday. The pomp and pageantry of Jesus Triumphal Entry, but no longer do we have the sadness that often manifests itself at the beginning of Holy Week knowing there is the cross of Calvary looming in the horizon. Maybe today we can even see beyond the disappointment and despair of COVID-19 and instead look to the victorious Jesus coming into our lives in power and in Glory.
Christ the King readings come from Matthew 25 where we hear of Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father to judge the living and the dead.
But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. (Matthew 25:31-46)
What a picture: Jesus in all His glory, angels and thrones and nations gathered before him. However, there comes a reoccurring message and at the heart of the message is separation. Separating the sheep from the goats, those doing the will of God from those who don’t.
Early in the chapter there was the separation of the wise bridesmaids who brought extra oil for their lamps from the foolish bridesmaids who forgot to bring extra oil and were unprepared when the bridegroom arrived. Then there was the separation of the good stewards who multiplied the talents given them from the lazy steward who buried his talent. The scriptures paint a picture of Jesus not only as King but as Judge!
Today’s Gospel reading speaks of placing at the right hand of God those who offered hospitality to the stranger, food to the hungry; water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, comfort to the sick, attention to the prisoners, and placing at the left those who were unwelcoming and ignored the needs of others.
As the people are separated into two groups, one on the right and one on the left of Jesus, it is clear that both groups are equally puzzled. They are both, you might say, unprepared for this word of judgment. Neither group had lived their lives expecting to be judged in this way. As their sentences are handed down, both groups say, “We didn’t know we would be judged for that.” We don’t like the thought of being judged by our actions and there is something unsettling in the words: Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?
There have been numerous Christians down through the centuries who have been living parables of the truth of Matthew 25: “whatever you did for the least of these you did for me”.
One such man was Francis of Assisi, the son of a wealthy merchant. He had position in society. But he was not happy. He felt that life was incomplete. Then one day he was out riding and he met a leper. The man was loathsome and repulsive in the ugliness of his disease. Something moved Francis to get off his horse and fling his arms around this man and in his arms the face of the leper changed to the face of the Christ.
Or the story of Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked him for money. Martin had no money; but the beggar was blue and shivering with cold, and Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed as it was; he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in the midst of them; and Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to Him, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you?” And Jesus answered, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”
Our world doesn’t really understand the act of giving away our coat, sacrificing what we have for the needs of others. It just goes counter cultural to a world where we put ourselves first.
St. Ignatius, the Spanish founder of the Jesuits in the 16th Century, gave a great analogy as he spoke in military terms of standards or flags that are raised. Ignatius said there are two standards put before us: the standard of the world, and the standard of Christ.
The standard of the world can be seen in wealth, power, and pride.
Following the standard of Christ breaks through the standard of the world and maintains a dependence on God where we surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When we follow the standard of Christ we see God’s revelation is to be found in the crucified Jesus! The standard is the Cross and we lift High the Cross. The Crucified, risen Jesus is the one who rules, and to whom all creation is subject. When we, His Church, acknowledge Jesus as our King, we can have no illusions about what He calls us to do.
Chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew are critical to this basic outline of what following Jesus means. Matthew has been leading up to it. He has focused on Jesus teachings about the kingdom and about discipleship. Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ desire for the early church to seek first this kingdom and its mission of justice; to enter the narrow gate; to love their neighbour; and build their house on the rock. Now he reminds them, warns them what all this means. Matthew is saying, let’s look at the end in order to give meaning to the present. It is like a teacher telling the students at the beginning of the class what’s going to be on the final exam so they can know what is really important to remember along the way.
Jesus is pretty clear. There are sheep and there are goats. There are wise bridesmaids and there are foolish bridesmaids. There is a wide gate and there is a narrow gate. Some build on sand, others build on a rock. There is God or there is mammon. Jesus says, “You cannot serve both!”
Throughout the gospel, Matthew has been sharing Jesus teaching about God’s righteousness, which may also be translated as God’s justice. “Blessed are those who hunger for justice.” The church is to seek, to strive for and to participate in this justice. The kingdom of God, the reign of God is the fulfillment of this justice.
What God wants from us is essential kindness, shown through the love of neighbour. What the righteousness, the justice of God, is about is helping people who are in need. The church’s mission is to reorder relationships and resources so that those less fortunate, the forgotten ones, are included in the blessings of creation. The kingdom is about people helping people. It is bringing healing and harmony where there is hurt and discord.
As I read over this reading, what makes one stop and reflect is:
“In that you have done it to these, you have done it to me.” It may seem to be a surprise to learn that by feeding the hungry, we are feeding Jesus. We serve God by serving those in need. Though, it ought not surprise us because throughout the scriptures, God seems to side with the underdog of society, those who have been left out, the voiceless and those who have been victims of oppression, repression and control.
To feed the hungry today means more than simply food shared with those who can’t afford bread. It means a change in our response to people and when we look globally, how we respond to our resources so that all people can share in the blessings of creation. For that to happen, there needs to be some radical conversions in the hearts of people.
We see our mandate as followers of Jesus Christ to pay attention to the people with whom God came to identify, and we look around us for the life that he created and redeemed out of love. When the Son of Man comes in His glory and all the angels with Him, He will sit on the throne in heavenly glory and all the nations will be gathered before Him. It will be a glorious sight!